Archive for October, 2012

Choose Your Joneses Carefully

Second Hand Clothes

Second Hand Clothes: Our preferred method for dressing our children.

I read somewhere yesterday that you should choose your Joneses carefully and it resonated with me. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the line anywhere. I thought it was in A Good Enough House for a Great Life at Frugal Babe, but it might have been in this article by Joshua Becker over at Becoming Minimalist.

Regardless, it has stuck with me. I like the idea that, instead of looking around and blindly coveting the more stylish clothes, fancy electronic devices, and nicer car of a coworker, parent, or even friend, you can choose whose life you’d like yours to emulate. I thought about this for a while last night and realized that my Joneses are bits of my real-life friends, and large chunks of my online friends.

For several years I’ve wanted the one-car lifestyle of several of my friends (all it takes is an opportunistic car thief and a dropped set of keys!).

I’ve wanted the discipline of one of my friends who exercises consistently, and probably isn’t even letting her first trimester pregnancy get in the way of her workout schedule.

I’ve wanted that same friend’s wide open indoor spaces and clear counters–as far as I can tell, she’s a minimalist without even really trying.

I’ve wanted another friend’s commitment to healthy eating.

I’ve also wanted the fancy, internet-enabled electronics, but I could temper that by reminding myself that I didn’t want the bill, and nor did I want to become one of those parents who is glued to their phone.

Online, Frugal Babe is one of my favorite Joneses. She tries to make all of her family’s food from scratch, eats 95% vegan, buys everything used whenever possible, and works to repurpose what she has rather than buying something new. I love how she counters the Never Stop Improving mentality of a new generation of homeowners. I can’t wait to stop improving!

Some others in the online realm are J.Money at Budgets Are Sexy (I want his career!), Mr. Money Mustache, whose Muscle Over Motor principle Jason and I embrace heartily AND whose early retirement we both are jealous of, and Rachel at Minimalist Mom, whose minimalist lifestyle I’d enjoy.

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Those are my Joneses. Who are yours?

Megabus Adventures

Megabus photo

I recently had the opportunity to take a Megabus to Cleveland. And when I say opportunity, I mean that our newer, more comfortable car was stolen and Megabus became the best option. I honestly wouldn’t have considered it an option if my friend I was traveling with hadn’t mentioned it.

Pittsburgh is  a Megabus hub, so there are many destination options from here. All are relatively close by, and ideal for a trip into a city where you won’t be needing a car (New York City, anyone?).

Megabus is:

Cheap: It cost exactly $24.50 for a round-trip ticket. $13 to Cleveland, $11 back to Pittsburgh, and a $.50 processing fee. My friend estimated that we’d be paying about $50 in gas for the weekend, not to mention putting miles on the car Jason and I wanted to sell at some point in the near future.

Comfortable: The seats were soft and cushy, and I sat on the second level.

Convenient: They depart exactly on time, so you arrive when they say you will. The bus stops in Pittsburgh right downtown, about two miles from our house.

There’s also wireless internet! I didn’t try to use it on my trip to Cleveland because I was traveling with a new friend  whom I wanted to chat with instead. On my trip home, I couldn’t convince the wifi to work on my computer, but I had a new magazine, so I’ll admit that I didn’t try very hard. But many people around me took advantage of it and were happily facebooking away on their computers.

Honestly, I spent 2 hours and twenty minutes talking to a friend one way, and relaxing and reading trashy magazines the other way.  This, instead of dealing with Friday rush hour traffic, aggressive drivers, and trying to navigate a new place. We were of course extremely fortunate to have my friend’s friend to both pick up and drop off at the bus stop!

I can see taking the Megabus with my family, particularly when J & P are of an age when they no longer need such large amounts of gear and can walk more. What a great way to explore a city for a weekend!

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Have you ever taken a Megabus? 

Renovation Update Week 10

Plumbing end

Jason’s artistic photo of something he was trying to remove. He sent me armed with this and several other photos to Home Depot, where the knowledgable sales associate was thrilled to have pictures.

The House

After last week’s flurry of activity, it felt good to have a light weekend. I was out of town for most of it (Jason’s first solo overnight with two kids was declared a success!), and then we decided to do some pumpkin picking with the kids, clean up our trashed house, and it was Jason’s weekend to go to his friend’s for their Homeowner’s Co-op.

While I was in Cleveland, during naps and after bedtime, Jason caulked the tub surround, replaced the broken pump in the washing machine, and wired and installed the fan/light combo fixture. He’s a show off 🙂

Laundry Room

  • Clean
  • Move things back in

Move radiator lines

  • Move living room radiator
  • Move 2nd floor bedroom pipes

Allegheny Millwork-Andy

  • Call with measurements for estimates
  • Order stairs

Bathroom

  • Finish mud
  • Prime (Christi)
  • Install door
  • Bathtub surround
  • Bathtub plumbing/faucets/shower
  • Vent/fan
  • Paint vanity (Christi)
  • Install vanity, contact paper on bottom shelf
  • Medicine cabinet
  • Lights & outlets
  • Trim
  • Paint trim (Christi)
  • Paint (Christi)
  • Clean fixtures & floor (Christi)-bathtub cleaned!
  • Install hand-held sprayer, shower curtain/rings/rod, toilet paper holder, hand towel/reg towel bars, robe hooks, washcloth holder(s), shelf, and some kind of wall-mount cabinet. Also need to find: bath caddy for shower head, something to hold 4 washcloths, bath mats, and a garbage can.

2nd floor bathroom

  • Plan
  • Build separation wall in kitchen

Donate old doors and windows

Paint back wall of house (christi)

Framing

  • Living Room
  • Dining Room
  • Blocking

*Electrical

  • Make plan
  • Plan reviewed by electrician
  • Install Boxes
  • Run wires

Insulate

OSB Walls

*Drywall

 

The Money

Grand total of $37.13 on new knobs for the vanity, many roller covers, and caulk for the tub surround.

The Kids

Nothing new here.

The Lovebirds

Nothing to report. I mean, we’re stil in love, but that’s not news, right 🙂

Still Stolen: The First Week of a One-Car Household

Subaru Forester in snow

If we had to have a car stolen, it’s slightly reassuring to know that we still have the one with four-wheel drive, just in case we have a winter like this again.

It’s Monday afternoon as I write this, meaning that we’ve been without a second car for seven days and a few hours. 

My only update about our car is that there is no update. It hasn’t turned up. The insurance will reimburse us the cost of new car seats, which is excellent, especially considering Paige was about to outgrow hers. We don’t know if the insurance will ask for us to reimburse them if the car turns up with the car seats intact. Honestly, even if it does show up with the car seats, I don’t plan to use them. You never know what someone who’s stolen your car has done all over the kid’s seats.

Also, we don’t know at what point there will be a payout for the cost of replacing the car. 30 days? 60 days? And then what happens if it turns up after whatever time frame? Things I’m curious to know but that honestly won’t change our circumstance one iota, so not really that important, really.

Following are my observations after having only one car for a week.

1. I’m walking more. Last Wednesday I walked J to school, walked P to the dry cleaners and then her morning program, to the library, then back to pick P up and then J up. J rode his new (to him) big two-wheeler and we locked it up at school on a fence. Can you believe they don’t have a bike rack? I’m thinking of calling BikePittsburgh to see if they match fundraising or something for a new rack. Anyway, another day we walked to the post office to mail a large package after picking J up at school.

2. Jason’s biking more. He biked three days last week, and biked today, when he would normally never bike on a Monday morning. That’s not to say he was excited about it, but he’s doing it and getting some intense cardio on the small mountains he has to climb to get to work.

3. This kids are exercising more. We’ve taken little walks around our neighborhood just to get some fresh air on mornings that we didn’t have a car, and Jack has ridden his bike alongside me pushing the stroller. In fact, he goes so fast on the new (to him), bigger bike that I almost always have to run to keep up. Commuters driving to work probably wonder who the crazy lady is that always wears jeans when she runs 🙂

4. We don’t melt. On a walk home from school, it started to rain, really rain. J wasn’t a huge fan, but he kept on going and even picked up the pace a little. P was snug and dry in the covered stroller. I knew rain was a possibility that morning, so everyone was dressed in a raincoat, the kids’ rain pants were in my bag, and I had an umbrella with us. And I took the Burley trailer/stroller that morning since it has a rain-tight cover and lots of storage for whatever we need to haul around.

5. Walking to “run” errands involves planning. I’ve always run a few errands here and there with the kids while walking, but never on this level. I have to plan to have everything I need to mail, deposit, drop off, etc. If I forget something, that errand has to wait another day at least.

6. Less gas = more money. We could probably lower the $404/month budget for transportation soon, because usually halfway through the month we’ve filled the cars up at least once each. I would have filled the blue car last Monday, in fact. But that money is barely being touched this month. Fyi, that amount covers all expenses, maintenance, insurance, gas, everything for two cars and Jason’s commute bike (as well as some biking clothing and accessories for him).

7. A trip to the suburbs is again a family fun night. I had some suburban errands to run to get ready for our trip–Costco, Target, Michael’s, and Lowe’s, so we took the kids one night and had a fun dinner out.

8. I need to replace my car key. I have a handful of errands to take care of before we leave for San Francisco, and need the car. Jason biked today so that I could take care of them today. But I realized, after readying myself and both kids and all assorted stuff we needed to take care of, that Jason forgot to leave me the Subaru key. Not his fault at all–I should have had a new key made last week. You can guess what I just added to the errand list for tomorrow!

9. Parking is a breeze! We have a one-car garage that few modern cars can fit into and still open even one door. And we have a parking pad that fits one car. So we park one car in the parking pad and one blocks in that car and the door of the garage. Changing cars was a pain, probably more for Jason than for me, since the Subaru didn’t usually have car seats in it (from the weekend trips to haul drywall, tools, etc.). Parking on the street in front of our house was usually a bigger pain since our neighborhood is half student rentals and each student brings a car that they park on the street.

10. I need to buy bus tickets. Saturday night after my return from Cleveland (on the Megabus!), I realized that I had not a penny with which to catch a bus home. Fortunately a lovely Marriott had a mac machine and gave me change. I plan on taking the bus with the kids soon, and don’t want to have to deal with the money while dealing with them and their assorted gear.

11. Our pace has slowed. We’ve now stayed home two full days in the last week, which is unusual and refreshing. The kids seem to enjoy it and I’m certainly happy accomplishing more at home. We’re not seeing as many people for playdates, that’s certain. But I’ve been a tad overwhelmed lately by all the things on our schedule and staying home more is a very good way to feel less busy and more calm.

My verdict: We’re not suffering. 

We’re ALL exercising more, getting more fresh air, I feel like I’m catching up with some of the things I’d let slide recently, and we’re spending less money. Some things are inconvenient, but they’re mostly solvable things.

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How do you manage errands/kids/appointments/jobs with only one car?

Renovation Update Week 9

bathroom renovation

All this in one week!

The House

I painted the back of the house during nap time on two beautiful days last week. Fastest painting ever! Nothing motivates like not knowing when the kids will wake up.

After some light begging, my mom drove up for the weekend to be primary caregiver to the kids while I helped Jason with the house. We accomplished so much (THANKS, MOM!). Jason finished moving radiator pipes on Saturday morning. He filled the system, then had to drain it because there was a leak. Second time was the charm, and just in time for it to get down to 37 degrees on Satruday night!

Saturday at 1pm, Jason’s friend came to help for a few hours and they replaced the bathtub plumbing/faucets/shower and installed the tub surround. The tub surround was tough because the ceiling is so low that the surround had to be cut down on the top. When I say low, I mean that the shower sprayer hits me in the chest, and I’m 5’8″. We will definitely be installing a hand-held sprayer.

While they worked, I moved a few things that were left back into the laundry room, cleaned up some of Jason’s piles, and started painting the bathroom and vanity cabinet.

On Sunday I finished the painting–almost. I’ve decided to do one more coat on the vanity (4!) because it’s still not totally evenly white (I did finish that yesterday, on Wednesday afternoon). We found a beautiful blue in our Oops Paint collection–you know, the returned but custom-tinted paints at Home Depot and Lowe’s. $5 for a gallon of $25 paint. I check the paint desk every time I walk into one of these stores, and we probably bought this particular can of paint at least a few years ago. AND it covered beautifully in one coat. I like the color so much (and we have so much left) that I’m seriously considering painting the second floor bathroom the same color.

bathroom renovation

Almost there…

While I painted, Jason drilled a 4-inch hole through the side of the house to run the bathroom vent pipe through. The space he was working in was awkward and criss-crossed by about 5 pipes of various sizes and a few wires, too. After that was finished he installed the door jamb kit (pre-primed!) and started working on the $5 Construction Junction door.

Before hanging up my work clothes for the evening, I tackled the bathtub. This bathtub was, for 4-5 years, where Jason stored buckets of scrap to be recycled and his bike tire collection. It took 1.5 hours and shower cleaner, dish soap, Goo Gone and two different grits of sandpaper. I’m still sore.

Monday night, even though he was on solo bedtime duty, Jason finished the door and hung it.

Tuesday night while I was on solo bedtime duty he installed the medicine cabinet, the lights on either side, the door trim, and the doorknob.

Significant progress!

Laundry Room

  • Clean
  • Move things back in

Move radiator lines

  • Move living room radiator
  • Move 2nd floor bedroom pipes

Allegheny Millwork-Andy

  • Call with measurements for estimates
  • Order stairs

Bathroom

  • Finish mud
  • Prime (Christi)
  • Install door
  • Bathtub surround
  • Bathtub plumbing/faucets/shower
  • Vent/fan
  • Paint vanity (Christi)
  • Install vanity
  • Medicine cabinet
  • Lights & outlets
  • Trim
  • Paint trim (Christi)
  • Paint (Christi)
  • Clean fixtures & floor (Christi)-bathtub cleaned!
  • Install hand-held sprayer, shower curtain rod, toilet paper holder, hand towel & reg towel bars, robe hooks, washcloth holder(s), shelf, and some kind of wall-mount cabinet.

2nd floor bathroom

  • Plan
  • Build separation wall in kitchen

Donate old doors and windows

Paint back wall of house (christi)

Framing

  • Living Room
  • Dining Room
  • Blocking

*Electrical

  • Make plan
  • Plan reviewed by electrician
  • Install Boxes
  • Run wires

Insulate

OSB Walls

*Drywall

The Money

Grand total of $104.55 this week for a box of drywall screws, copper elbows, and a new faucet/shower combo and copper fittings for the bathroom.

We bought $400 in Home Depot gift cards from Giant Eagle last week, which we used for the above purchases. Our rewards credit card gives us 6% back on all grocery store purchases, and Giant Eagle gives us .10 per gallon of gas for ever $50 we spend. It’s an easy way to get a little discount on never-discounted building supplies.

The Kids

The kids enjoyed having their Nana all weekend and actually celebrated when they heard we were leaving.

The every-other-night solo bedtime duty is working very well. I had a board meeting one night and wrote on another, and Jason’s been feeling less guilty about going downstairs to work.

The Lovebirds

Nana gave us a date night on Friday night after she arrived. What did we do? We went to REI to buy shoes for J, went out to dinner, and then decided we were tired and had a full day on Saturday. We arrived home by 8:30pm.

But really, the whole weekend was a date since were in the basement working together with pretty minimal interruption.

 

The Value of Co-Ops

at the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library

J playing at the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library

I belong to two co-operative organizations. One is a grocery store and credit union, and the other is a toy lending library and play space. My sister-in-law once belonged to a preschool co-op, and my favorite Mexican restaurant ever, Casa Nueva in Athens, Ohio, is a worker’s co-op. Per Wikipedia, a co-operative is “an association of persons who voluntarily cooperate for their mutual social, economic, and cultural benefit.”

The grocery co-op I belong to is a consumer’s co-op, giving customers better buying power for healthier foods. I can find so many of the healthy foods we’ve become accustomed to there, as well as supporting local farmers and businesses since they try to source as much local food as possible. Not to mention their bulk section helps us use less packaging! They also offer financial services through their credit union co-op, but I’ve not tried it out.

The toy library co-op is actually pretty unique in this country; for children birth through kindergarten it offers a great play space and a library of over 300 toys that parents can check out. It happens to be an all-volunteer co-op, meaning that it is entirely staffed and run by volunteers like me (full disclosure: I’m on the board of directors).

Both of these co-ops have membership costs. The grocery co-op is $100 for a lifetime membership, and I pay $35 yearly for the toy co-op, which is a discounted rate in exchange for volunteering two times each month.

Both of these co-ops offer a tangible benefit–lower prices on local, healthy groceries and toy lending and play privileges.

But their biggest benefit is probably the community  they create and sustain. They offer their members the opportunity to get as involved as they like in the organization, ranging from using only the tangible benefits up to serving on a board of directors. It’s an opportunity to influence local policy, widen your circle of friends and network, beef up a resume, learn new skills, or gain experience owning a business, all while doing something that benefits the other members, too.

Whenever I can, I always try to support a co-op. The “owners,” whoever they are, are generally always working toward offering something better or different for the community.

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What’s your experience with co-ops?

Steal My Ride!

stolen car

Have you seen this car?

Today has been a day of ups and downs…

Down: J’s dentist appointment at 8am this morning.

Up: We managed to successfully have his teeth cleaned and fluoride applied without him biting, kicking or hitting anyone!

Down: Our car was stolen while we were in the dentist’s, and they have our house keys as well. Apparently wrestling an unwilling, tantrum-throwing 4 year-old into a dentist’s office caused the keys to fall out of my pocket. My shallow, silly pocket, where I should know better than to put my keys.

Up: The officer was quick to arrive to file the report, we had a warm place to wait with toys, and the receptionist even put Finding Nemo on the waiting room TV for J.

Down: Two very nice car seats and a travel stroller were in the car.

Up: My mom had P for the morning and we live 1.5 miles from the dentist, so J and I had a nice (cold) walk home and talked the whole way (bonus quality time!).

Down: Jason had to leave work to change the deadbolts (such protective instincts on that one).

Up: We got to hug Jason in the middle of the morning!

Down: We’ve seriously inconvenienced the people who own the title for the car.

Up: We weren’t in the car. We have a second car. Car seats and strollers are replaceable.

Down: The kid’s favorite music cds were in the car.

Up: Opened the garage to find two car seats AND the travel stroller. We have spare car seats since we have two cars, and Jason had removed the travel stroller from the trunk a couple of weeks ago and I kept forgetting to put it back.

Up: J, P, and I walked to his our parent teacher conference this afternoon, and she gave me a GLOWING report.

Up: J thought that maybe the person who stole the car needed the carseats or the car and that we should give them that one since we have two or buy them one of their own. Such a generous heart.

Up: I just realized, amid my spanikopita/chai tea/dark chocolate therapy, that the gas tank was on EMPTY and the registration sticker had EXPIRED. This makes me smile.

So far, this whole thing has cost us $66.78, the cost of four new deadbolts. This is a temporary fix, as we’ll keep trying to find a re-key set for our existing locks. Unless they don’t accept returns on opened locks, of course. We don’t need to replace the stroller, and we can hold off on the car seats for a while.

Man, that emergency fund keeps taking hits lately!

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Have you ever had a car stolen?